I did learn one sad thing, however. Diana Waring announced that she is retiring from the homeschooling conference circuit. She will still be writing, but she will not be speaking at homeschool conventions on a regular basis anymore. The homeschooling community will be missing out on some real blessings as a result. If homeschoolers want to continue to benefit from her wisdom, they should follow her blog.
I didn’t have the chance to speak to as many people as I usually do at such conventions, because I am currently performing in a musical called The Fantasticks. As a result, I had to drive a bit more than two hours from Anderson, Indiana to Cincinnati, Ohio every morning to speak at the convention, and then I had to leave the convention early so I could drive back to Anderson, Indiana to perform in the play. Normally, I wouldn’t consider doing such a crazy thing, but this is my all-time favorite play. I have performed the roles of El Gallo (my all-time favorite role) and Henry (a washed-up actor), and in this version of the play, I got a chance to perform a different role, Amos Babcock Bellomy (a nerdy father). The role was played by Joel Grey in the movie, and I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Here is a picture of me during one of the performances (I am the one in the bow tie):
About two weeks ago, I spoke at the Greater St.Louis Area Home Educators Expo. It was an excellent convention. One of the sessions I did was entitled “Q & A With Dr. Wile.” It was a forum where students and parents could ask me questions about pretty much anything. Well, the convention wanted to make sure they had plenty of questions in case there weren’t many from the audience, so they solicited questions on their Facebook page and in one of their popular homeschool co-ops. Since there were plenty of questions from the audience, I didn’t get a chance to answer many of the ones that came in before the convention, so I wanted to answer a few of them now. Here they are, in no particular order:
What is your favorite play or part you have done?
My favorite play is The Fantasticks by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones. It’s a wonderful “boy meets girl” story with a couple of really good twists. It is the world’s longest-running musical, with the original production running off-Broadway for a total of 42 years. I have had the honor of playing two parts in the show: El Gallo (the narrator) and Henry (an old actor). El Gallo is also my favorite part.
I am actually currently in rehearsals for another production of The Fantasticks! This time, I play one of the nerdy fathers, which is a perfect fit for me. Here is a picture of me, my (fictional) daughter, the other father, and his (fictional) son at one of the rehearsals. We aren’t in costume, but I am wearing the hat I will wear in performances:
Do you perform Drama in a ministry setting, or just community theater?
I do both. In fact, I have a section here on my blog that contains original scripts I have written for my church’s drama ministry.
What is your favorite song to play on piano?
Back when I had time to really play the piano, it was the first movement of Beethoven’s “Sonata Pathétique.” However, that’s beyond my ability at this point in my life. My favorite piece now is an arrangement of “Amazing Grace” by Cindy Berry. It starts off as Edvard Grieg’s “Morning Mood,” moves into “Amazing Grace,” and then moves back into “Morning Mood.” It is stunningly beautiful, and I love it because “Amazing Grace” is my favorite hymn. I actually wrote a play about it a few years ago.
The vaccine talk is rather controversial in some homeschooling circles. I take a scientific approach to the issue, of course, which means I recognize that for the vast majority of people, vaccines are both very safe and very effective. As a result, I encourage people to vaccinate their children. In the homeschooling community, there is a small-but-strong anti-vaccination movement, however, so I was surprised that the convention asked me to give the talk. They did get some angry e-mails about it, but in the end, it went well, and even though I specifically asked for hostile questions, there were none. All the questions I got were very serious and very polite.
I had two big surprises at the convention. First, a former Ball State University student was at the convention, and she came up to reintroduce herself to me. It has been more than 20 years since I taught chemistry and physics at Ball State University. Also, she took chemistry 100, which is one of those “intimate” classes that contains more than 200 students, so not surprisingly, I didn’t recognize her. We talked a bit about old times, and we took a “selfie” together:
It was really fun to have her mixed in with all the homeschooling students who have used my courses over the years.
However, my favorite session of the year so far wasn’t a talk at all. It was a question/answer session. I will discuss that in a moment, but first, I guess I need to “toot my own horn” for a moment. For whatever reason, I got a lot more feedback than usual from homeschooling parents and students at this convention, and some of it was amazing. It all started with the speaker coordinator for the convention. She said that at a convention about 10 years ago, her son (who was in high school at the time) asked me a question. He wanted to be a medical doctor, but he also loved ballet. Well, he had a choice between participating in an exclusive ballet event or doing a science camp. He asked what he should do. I guess I surprised him with my answer, because I told him that he should definitely participate in the ballet event.
Why would I tell an aspiring doctor to do a ballet event rather than a science camp? There are at least three reasons. First, as I understood it, it was an honor to be asked to participate in the ballet event, while the science camp was something anyone could do. Second, I encourage students to be as well-rounded as possible, and if he really enjoyed ballet, he should make the time for it, despite the fact that it wasn’t directly related to his career. Third, and most important, getting into medical school is incredibly difficult. There are lots and lots of applicants who have done all sorts of science camps. However, there aren’t lots and lots who are accomplished ballet artists. If he continued with ballet and did things like the event he described to me, it would make him stand out as an applicant.
The mother told me that her son happily took my advice. He participated in the ballet event and continued to pursue ballet in college, even though he was a premed major. Not only did he get accepted into medical school on his first attempt (an accomplishment in and of itself), he was awarded a sizable scholarship! She and her son are convinced that those accomplishments were a direct result of taking my advice. I immediately told her that her son’s talent and hard work were the primary reasons for his accomplishments, but I am happy my advice was helpful to him. For any of my readers who are thinking of becoming medical doctors, it’s worth considering this young man’s path to medical school.
I will limit myself to two other examples of the feedback I received. The second came from a homeschooling mother who told me that her daughter had taken my high-school biology course, Exploring Creation with Biology. She then enrolled in a college biology class while she was still in high school. She ended up getting the highest grade in the class, despite the fact that she was the youngest student there. After that, the department hired her to tutor her fellow students in biology! I have heard some version of this story many times, and it just further confirms how utterly wrong Bill Nye is when he says that children who are taught creationism “…will never feel the joy of discovery that science brings.”
The first happened when I was at my publisher’s booth (pictured above). I typically hang out there between talks so I can answer questions about my courses and talk informally with the convention’s attendees. Early in the convention, a mother came by the booth and told me about her son. In early high school, he planned to go to college and get a degree in law or political science so that he could get involved in politics. However, he took my chemistry course in 10th grade, and soon after that, he changed his mind. He is now a chemistry major at university, and he plans to continue on to get his PhD! He credits my chemistry course for sparking his love of chemistry and helping him do so well at university.
Now, of course, I love stories like this. However, that was just the beginning. Later on, a high school student came to talk with me. He said that he was planning on studying Russian at university, but after taking my chemistry course, he has decided to major in chemistry! I thought it was pretty amazing to hear two such “conversion” stories at one convention, but then I heard yet another. A high school student came to me and told me that she really didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life, but after studying two of my courses, she has decided to major in some scientific field when she goes to university!
This isn’t the first time I have heard “conversion” stories like these, but hearing them at this convention was particularly meaningful, because I had recently finished Bill Nye’s awful book, Undeniable. In that book, he claims that students who are taught creationism will “never feel the joy of discovery that science brings.” In my review of the book, I said that this is demonstrably false, as I know several students who have said that using my creationist science courses caused them to study science at university. Some of them have graduated and are now doing scientific research. However, Nye’s ignorant statement was still fresh in my mind at the convention, and these three different personal encounters at the convention confirmed how incredibly wrong it is.
We arrived in South Africa a week ago, but we have been busy adjusting to the new time, reacquainting ourselves with friends, exploring our surroundings, and traveling to the KwaZulu-Natal Homeschool Curriculum Expo, which took place three days ago (Saturday). In some ways, the conference was just like a homeschooling conference in the U.S. There were vendors selling curriculum, speakers giving talks, refreshments being sold, etc. In some ways, however, it was quite different. Much of the curriculum and some of the conversations were in two different languages: English and Afrikaans. It seemed everyone at the conference spoke English, but many chose to talk among themselves in Afrikaans, and some wanted to have at least a portion of their curriculum in that language as well. The refreshments, not surprisingly, were quite different. Hot tea was the main beverage consumed (although coffee and soda were available), and the food available for purchase included meat pies and “pancakes,” which were unlike pancakes found in the U.S. They were thin, covered in cinnamon sugar, and rolled into a tube.
I spoke three times at the conference, discussing Homeschooling: The Environment for Genius, “Teaching” Science at Home, and What I Learned by Homechooling. The technology available to the speakers was excellent. There was a great sound system, three screens that showed my PowerPoint presentation to all parts of the auditorium, and a video crew filming me as I spoke. The talks were well-received, but not surprisingly, the best part was the questions that were asked once each talk was over.
Homeschooling has not been going on in South Africa as long as it has been going on in the U.S., so many of the questions reminded me of the questions I got when I first started speaking to homeschoolers in the U.S. back in the 1990s.
In case you haven’t read two of my previous posts (here and here), I am doing something I haven’t done for nearly 20 years – teaching a university-level chemistry course. The class has been going on since the last week of August, but starting this past Friday, the topic has been nuclear chemistry, which is the speciality in which I got my Ph.D. Obviously, then, it is near and dear to my heart. We are probably spending too much time on the subject, but I just can’t help it. We will be getting back to “normal” chemistry (which concentrates on electrons) soon enough. For now, I want the students to see the wonders of the nucleus!
Of course, the most reasonable subject with which to begin a discussion of nuclear chemistry is radiation. So I taught the students about the various modes of radioactive decay, why radioactive decay happens, etc. Then I tried to make the point that radiation is everywhere, and that’s okay, since our bodies are designed to deal with low doses of it. I then showed them a Geiger counter and a radioactive source. The source was labeled with the warning symbols you see above. Not surprisingly, when I put the source up to the Geiger counter, the students heard lots of clicking, because the source was emitting gamma rays.
Then I surprised them a bit. I put an old orange ceramic plate up to the Geiger counter, and it started clicking a lot more than it did with the source I had just used. That’s because the pretty orange color was made using uranium oxide, which is radioactive. It emits alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays. People ate off those plates for many years before it was determined that they shouldn’t be made anymore. I did the same thing with an old wristwatch. Once again, the Geiger counter went nuts, because the watch’s hands and numbers had been painted with a mixture of radium and zinc sulfide to make them glow. The radium also emits alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays. I then assured them that modern luminous paints aren’t radioactive.
The reason I am writing this blog entry, however, is because of a question one student asked me.
I was a bit concerned about giving the first talk, because it tends to ruffle some feathers. In the talk, I make the (rather obvious to me) point that the young-earth interpretation of Scripture is not the only orthodox interpretation that submits to Scriptural authority. I demonstrate this several different ways, including by pointing out that some of the early church fathers (like Origen) interpreted the days in the creation account to be figurative and not literal. By the 1100’s a figurative interpretation of Genesis was widespread in the church. Other church fathers (like Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius of Alexandria, Augustine, and Hilary of Poitiers) believed that the days had nothing to do with the passage of time but instead were used as a means by which the things that were created could be ordered in terms of priority.
This, of course, goes against what some of my fellow young-earth creationists teach, so sometimes, the content of the talk is greeted with quite a bit of anger. At this convention, however, no one seemed to get angry. In fact, I didn’t get a single hostile question after the talk, which surprised me. Everyone who spoke to me about that talk later said they appreciated how I handled such a hot-button issue. I did get an interesting question related to the talk from someone who came to my publisher’s booth, and it’s the question I want to address in this post.
This past weekend, I spoke at the California Homeschool convention in Ontario, California. It is a part of the Great Homeschool Conventions series, and as such, it offered a wide range of speakers as well as a big exhibit hall in which homeschoolers could examine the many great resources that are available to them. It was the first year for this particular convention, and that usually means a fairly small crowd. It generally takes a while for a homeschooling convention to get established, so you don’t expect large crowds in the first few years of a conference. This first-year conference defied that trend. It attracted a big crowd, and I was pleasantly surprised.
During one of those times, I experienced something that probably doesn’t happen very often outside of homeschooling circles. I was speaking with a mother about her teenage daughter’s options when it comes to science. The daughter was there as well. She wanted to be a forensic anthropologist, and the mother wanted to know what sciences her daughter should be taking in high school. I told her that the three subjects she should definitely take are biology, chemistry, and human anatomy, because they would all have a direct bearing on forensic anthropology. As a result, they would give her a good idea of the kind of science she would be doing if she chose that field. She should also strive to take physics, but it would not have as much direct bearing on her field as the other three.
Since the daughter had not taken any of those subjects yet, I suggested that she should start with biology. She began looking at my biology text and mentioned a few things she liked about it. She then asked me some questions regarding specific aspects of the course. Then she asked me the following question:
My main concern is, will this book challenge me enough?
I have to tell you, that’s a question you rarely hear from a teenager when it comes to a textbook! Nevertheless, it isn’t the first time I have been asked that question by a high school student at a homeschool convention. That’s one of the many reasons I love working with homeschooled students! They understand that education is important, and many of them actually want to be challenged by it!